DirecTV Now vs. Hulu: Which One Do You Need?

Let's make one thing clear right off the bat: DirecTV Now and Hulu are apples and oranges. The former is a live TV service intended to replace a cable or satellite-TV subscription; the latter is an on-demand streaming video service intended to deliver TV shows and movies whenever you want to watch them. However, many viewers are trying to determine which one will best suit both their habits and their budgets, and want to see how the two stack up.

Because the two services are so different, this isn't a traditional face-off. Instead, consider it an informational jumping-off point. Read on to discover some of the major differences between DirecTV Now and Hulu, and which one might better fit your viewing habits.

Delivery Method

The major difference between DirecTV Now and Hulu is that they don't deliver video the same way. DirecTV Now is delivered over the web, but it works essentially the same way as a cable service. You have a selection of 50 to 120 channels, depending on your package, and you can scroll through them in real time. There are some on-demand movies and TV shows, but no DVR capabilities. If you don't catch your favorite shows when they air, you'll have to wait for the reruns.

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Hulu is an on-demand streaming service, like Netflix. There are no live channels (although the company plans to add some). Instead, you select the TV show or movie you want to watch, and it plays at your discretion. You can pause, rewind and fast-forward, just as you would with a DVD.


DirecTV Now, as a cable replacement service, offers the standard array of cable channels. If you want to watch stations such as A&E, CNN, Comedy Central, Disney, FX, MTV, Nickelodeon, Spike, TBS and TNT, DirecTV Now can deliver them to you without a traditional cable or satellite-TV subscription. There are also some premium channels, like HBO and Starz, as well as a handful of broadcast networks, like NBC, Fox and ABC.

Credit: Hulu

(Image credit: Hulu)

Hulu, on the other hand, makes deals with cable and broadcast networks in order to rebroadcast its content on-demand. Major content partners for the site include ABC, MTV, NBC, Comedy Central, Fox, Cartoon Network and CBS. You won't have access to all content from those networks, just certain shows. Moreover, each broadcaster decides whether you can access a complete series, a handful of older episodes or just the latest five or six episodes of a show.

Generally speaking, Hulu is an excellent resource for watching new shows anywhere between a day and a week after they air; its back catalog is not as robust as those offered by Netflix.


Of the two services, DirecTV Now is considerably more expensive. The cheapest package (about 50 channels) will run you $35 per month, while the most expensive (about 120 channels) costs $70 per month. There are two tiers in between, but the bottom line is that you're going to be spending a few hundred dollars on this service every year. If you want a DirecTV Now subscription, you and your family had better really enjoy watching TV.

DirecTV Now has a four-tier pricing plan. Credit: DishTV

(Image credit: DirecTV Now has a four-tier pricing plan. Credit: DishTV)

Hulu will run you $8 per month, or in a particularly nasty twist, you can pay $12 per month for the service without commercials. (Neither Netflix nor Amazon Prime uses commercials, and both charge about $9 per month; furthermore, not every network even allows its shows to be commercial-free on Hulu.) At its default price, that's less than $100 per year. This is something you can subscribe to, even if you don't watch TV very often.


Each service has slightly different technical requirements, mostly because DirecTV Now is not yet available on as many platforms as it should be. DirecTV Now subscribers can watch the service on computers, iOS and Android devices, Google Chromecasts, Amazon Fire TVs, Apple TVs and a handful of smart TVs. So far, that's it.

Hulu is much more versatile; users can also employ Rokus, game consoles, Android TV devices and a wide variety of smart TVs and Blu-ray players. DirecTV Now will gain more apps over time, but for the time being, Hulu is more likely to work with what you already own.

Bottom Line

DirecTV Now and Hulu serve two very different functions, and the amount of TV you watch will determine which one is better for you. Videophiles who clear their schedules for the latest episode of each new prime-time drama will probably gravitate toward DirecTV Now, whereas those who follow a handful of network shows whenever they get a chance will probably be happier with Hulu.

It's also worth noting that neither DirecTV nor Hulu is the best at what it does. PlayStation Vue and Sling TV are both better options for cable replacement, and Netflix and Amazon Prime offer considerably more on-demand content. The good news is that if you decide DirecTV Now or Hulu isn't for you, you can cancel either one at any time; cable contracts are a thing of the past.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.